World-leading expert appointed to top NZ firm

by Sophie Schroder26 May 2014
A world-leading authority on insurance and arbitration law has just accepted a New Zealand consulting role at DLA Phillips Fox.
Professor Robert Merkin, an international expert and an Honorary Professor of Law in New Zealand, will advise clients of the firm on insurance and policy issues, and will also provide in-house seminars for clients.
Although based at the University of Exeter in the UK, Merkin will visit New Zealand for extended periods three times a year and will continue to provide advice to DLA Phillips Fox on live matters while in England.
He tells NZ Lawyer that until recently New Zealand was a country with a small consumer-based insurance market, with many of its big insurers and brokers being subsidiaries of or associated with companies overseas.
And with a culture that favoured settling rather than litigation, insurance law here had very little impact in other jurisdictions.
But that’s all changing, Merkin says.
“Very recently there has been a good deal of focus on the NZ position. Most importantly, the Canterbury earthquakes have given rise to a mass of complex issues and there has been a good deal of litigation: the decisions tackle areas previously unresolved and so NZ cases are becoming increasingly relevant to other English-speaking countries,” he says. “Those cases, along with the new and developing regulatory structure adopted in 2010, and with the fact that the losses from earthquakes will inevitably raise issues with overseas reinsurers, means that NZ has suddenly become a jurisdiction of major significance.”
As a part of the DLA Phillips Team, Merkin’s goals in New Zealand are to provide advice on live matters, as well as undertake training on insurance law for the firm’s lawyers and clients.
And with strong connections with the insurance markets in both England and Hong Kong, he will also do his best to bring work to the firm wherever he can.
More generally he hopes to add to the knowledge of insurance law in New Zealand by speaking at professional conferences and teaching an LLM module on insurance law at Auckland University where he is an Honorary Professor.
“I hope to be able to make this vitally important subject better known in academic circles, and to increase knowledge of it in professional and market circles,” Merkin says.
His interest in insurance law was ignited after taking the subject as part of his masters’ degree.
At that time the law wasn’t particularly well developed and neither New Zealand nor Australia had adopted the reform measures which are now in place, he says.
“I realised even as a student that this was an important and challenging area of law, but that there were hardly any academics working in the field. So I made the decision to undertake further research, and once I started working in universities most of my research and writing efforts were devoted to insurance law.”